I went to a Gourd dance on Veterans Day, a yearly event at the Pueblo Grande Museum. This gathering honors Native American warriors who have served in our Armed Forces.

Americans represent only 1% of the country’s population, but comprise 3% of our Armed Forces. American Indians have a warrior tradition, and when called to serve, they respond. When warriors return from battle they are welcomed with a returning warrior ceremony which cleanses and purifies them from any dust of war that might still cling to them.

I was the Chief of Psychiatry at the Phoenix Indian Medical Center during the Vietnam War. I saw very little PTSD in returning warriors who participated in traditional ceremonies. However, those who returned to an urban environment and were not so welcomed, instead they returned to a Nation that did not welcome them with parades, celebrations, appreciation, and respect, but tried to make them invisible.

15% to 20% of the Veterans who fought in Viet Nam, the Gulf Wars, Iraq, and Afghanistan suffer from PTSD. They are treated by a VA system which labels them disabled and heavily medicates them for years. From 2004 to 2009 the Veterans Health Administration spent $3.7 billion treating Vets with PTSD, even though there is little evidence their efforts are working.

If the VA spent a fraction of the money they spend on drugs and instead adapted the Native returning warrior ceremonies, we would see less symptomatology and shorten the traumatic aftermath of war.

We heal better in community; connect with others who respect, appreciate, and remind you of your strengths and resilience, and you will heal.